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Massachusetts’ HomeCorps program is on a mission to stop foreclosures

Using millions from lenders, AG unit helps struggling homeowners statewide

Laurin Mottle is director of the state HomeCorps Loan Modification Initiative, funded by a multistate settlement with banks.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Laurin Mottle is director of the state HomeCorps Loan Modification Initiative, funded by a multistate settlement with banks.

On the 11th floor of the Saltonstall Building in downtown Boston, Laurin J. Mottle spends her days taking phone calls from desperate people.

Mottle, 33, is the director of HomeCorps, a new program launched by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to keep homeowners out of foreclosure. It’s being funded with money from a multistate settlement with five major US banks.

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Since late April, the office has received about 3,000 calls to its hot line — 617-573-5333 — and has taken on about 1,865 cases. Already, it has stopped dozens of imminent foreclosures. Because of the demand, the staff of six is expected to soon expand to 18.

“At least one good thing happens every day,’’ said Mottle, sitting in her small office where a star is placed on the wall for each borrower helped. “We go home knowing ‘I changed a life today.’”

The HomeCorps Loan Modification Initiative is one of several programs funded by a $44.5 million allotment awarded to Massachusetts as part of the $25 billion deal reached in February between 49 states and lenders related to foreclosure-related fraud allegations.

Earlier this spring, Coakley also began other HomeCorps efforts, including grant funding to legal services agencies, nonprofits, and municipalities — all aimed at assisting delinquent borrowers stay in their homes or move into other stable housing, and improve neighborhoods by reducing foreclosure blight.

Coakley, in an interview at the HomeCorps offices, said the intent is to make sure that Massachusetts homeowners obtain all the mortgage assistance due to them from the settlement with Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citibank, and Ally Financial Inc.

As part of that agreement, lenders pledged to provide $20 billion to troubled homeowners nationwide through mortgage relief, including loan modifications, refinancing, and principal reduction. In all, the Massachusetts portion is expected to exceed $200 million.

Coakley said many foreclosures can be avoided by enlisting a middleman — especially one that wields the influence of the state’s top regulator — to work with lenders on behalf of borrowers.

“We wanted to make sure that the amount of money allocated to Massachusetts would be available and used,’’ said Coakley. “Behind every one of these files is a family in incredible stress.”

Already, some states have diverted their share of the settlement money to other uses, prompting protests from housing advocates who have long pushed for lenders to be held accountable for allegations of shoddy and fraudulent foreclosure practices, including the use of so-called robosigners.

Massachusetts is one of 27 states that have earmarked almost all of their funding for housing-related initiatives, according to a study by Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy group based in Maryland. Other states, including Texas and California, are still debating how to use the funds, according to the report.

“Massachusetts has done a great job as being a national leader,’’ said Amanda Sheldon Roberts, author of the report. “This is an enormous resource [that is] going to help solve the foreclosure problem.”

About $3 million of the settlement money will be spent to run the HomeCorps Loan Modification Initiative over the next two years.

Its staff of temporary workers will be based in Boston and other hard-hit cities like Springfield, Worcester, and New Bedford. HomeCorps formalizes assistance that the state has been offering since the foreclosure crisis started five years ago, Coakley said.

Those who have already benefitted include Richard Murphy, a 55-year-old Norton father of two who said he first talked to the attorney general’s office in January, before HomeCorps. He believes making that first call is a key reason why he is still in his three-bedroom Cape house.

Murphy struggled to make his $1,700 monthly mortgage payment after being laid off as an electronic engineer in 2009.

After finding a new job last year, he could not persuade his lender, JPMorgan Chase & Co., to modify his loan and fold in the debt he incurred from missing payments while unemployed.

With the help of Coakley’s office, he expects to sign a permanent loan modification in the next few months.

“There is no reason why this couldn’t have happened a year ago,’’ he said.

Jean LeMeanger, 52, of Worcester, said she called the attorney general’s office this spring after paying thousands of dollars to two companies that did not keep promises to fix her mortgage problems.

Last month, she almost lost her house at auction, but HomeCorps staff persuaded a debt collector to refinance her $215,000 mortgage loan rather than seize the property, which is worth significantly less than the loan balance.

“If it wasn’t for them, I would have lost my home,’’ LeMeanger said. “I didn’t know there were opportunities like that for people to call.”

Mottle, the HomeCorps director, said the program is effective because staff members have direct contacts at banks, making it easier for them to get answers and action.

They also solve simple issues that otherwise can stall a loan modification, she said.

For instance, Mottle said lenders often reject an application because of missing documentation without explaining to a homeowner what they need to submit.

Other times, the solution to a problem is as simple as checking a box on an application, she said.

Beside the stars on her wall, Mottle also has taped several thank-you notes from homeowners.

“For the banks it is about numbers,’’ she said. “For us, it’s about people.”

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @jbmckim.
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